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Auntie SparkNotes: Passion Play

Auntie SparkNotes: Passion Play

Dear Auntie,

There are two things you need to know about me.

One: I love love love to sing. I'm extremely passionate about it -- in choir class I'm a section leader, and I take private voice lessons.

Two: I'm a straight-A student, first in my class of 625, and I don't plan on changing that anytime soon.

We've just started registering for our classes next year, and those two qualities of myself have run into a bit of a conflict. Our school is switching from a six-period to a seven-period day next year, but we're still able to take seven classes if we come in early for a "0" hour. My six classes are filled with courses I *have* to take, but my zero hour is still up for grabs. Obviously, I'd LOVE to continue with choir. However, our school has a college-level accounting class that I'm seriously considering. While the idea of accounting doesn't exactly thrill me, it is a weighted class- which means it's worth a 4.4 on my GPA (assuming I get an A)! This could seriously help me to lock in my class standing. And while we're on the GPA subject, taking an unweighted 0 hour course (like choir) actually *hurts * my GPA- which would most certainly bring down my rank.

I have a passion for choir, but I'm not sure if my GPA could handle three years of it. And my class rank is important to me, too- not just for college's sake, but because I genuinely love the feeling of accomplishment I get from knowing I've done my best. If I don't take accounting, I'll feel like I haven't really tried to challenge myself. However, if I don't take choir, I'll feel like I've given up something I really, really love.

So, which is more important- my passion for singing, or my passion for challenging myself? What would you do if you were me?

Sadly, Sparkler, I know exactly what I'd be doing if I were you: namely, running down the street at approximately five thousand miles per hour from the first moment someone mentioned "accounting." (Seriously, more power to you for even considering it; I can barely look at a spreadsheet without breaking out in hives.)

But don't worry! Despite my mortal terror of numbers, I can totally help you out. Except not in the way you were hoping, because while you've set this up as a conflict between passions... well, something about that is bothering me. And this, I think, is it:

Your love of music is a true passion—one that will reward you, consistently and for the rest of your life, no matter what your level of academic or professional success. But this other thing—this "passion for challenging yourself"—won't.

Because what you keep calling a passion actually sounds much more like its goal-oriented relative: ambition. Right? You're not drawn to accounting because you love a good challenge; you're drawn to it because it's a way to cement your #1 rank. It's a means to an end. And unlike a true passion, where the pursuit is a reward in and of itself, taking that class will only feel worthwhile to you if it pays off in the form of a place at the top.

In other words: Passion is about the journey, whereas ambition is about the destination. And that's okay—except that when you put all your focus on the destination (especially when, if I'm reading your letter correctly, you're still a whopping three years away from graduation), you not only lose out on the chance to pursue the things you love that are unrelated to your goal, but you risk a crushing disappointment in the event that you don't achieve it.

And here's the thing: you might not.

Because even if you give up choir, even if you take accounting, and even if you do everything in your power to be the Absolute Best, sometimes these things don't work out. Accounting might not be the easy A you're expecting, or an unforeseen struggle in another subject could torpedo your GPA, or a new kid in your class could turn out to be a giant-brained genius who out-performs you in every way and knocks you out of the top-ranked spot by next Christmas. In other words: s**t happens, despite the best-laid plans and loftiest aspirations.

Which is why, in general, sacrificing everything you love in a quest to be the best is widely considered to be a bad idea—and why even people who achieve their every goal can still end up looking back on their lives not with a sense of accomplishment, but with regret for the things that they lost on the way.

So, what does that have to do with your choir-vs-accounting conundrum? Maybe nothing; it's just one decision, and a minor one at that—especially since there's no law against picking up choir again the year after next, so it's not like you're condemned to live forever with the consequences of your choice. You'll choose what's right for you. But no matter what you pick, what's more important is this: leaving some room in your life for a little bit of non-goal-related happiness.

If only because, even after you've been crowned King of the World, you'll still need a way to pass the time.

How do you balance passion with ambition with your goals to rule the world? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at

Related post: Auntie SparkNotes: Scary Smart

Topics: Advice
Tags: auntie sparknotes, gpa, choir, picking classes, ambition, class rank, accounting

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About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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